DEA Returns Money It Stole From An Innocent Woman, Gets Court To Let It Walk Away From Paying Her Legal Fees
from the abolish-DEA dept
Just another reminder the Drug Enforcement Agency doesn’t care all that much about drugs and/or enforcement. If there’s money to be made, the DEA is all in. If it can score easy wins by engaging in entrapment, it will. But the drugs will flow and the damage will be done. And the DEA will be there to hoover up the cash… even when the cash has nothing to do with drugs.
The DEA stole another person’s life savings back in 2015. A raid of house predicated on the theory Miladis Salgado’s husband was involved in drug dealing ended with the DEA walking off with $15,000 Salgado had saved for her daughter’s quinceanera. This was money Salgado had saved while working at a duty-free shop in the Miami airport, along with gifts from friends and relatives.
And it all was gone after the DEA raided her house. The good news is Salgado eventually got her money back. But it took time and it took a lawyer. In the end, the DEA admitted it had no evidence tying her husband to drug trafficking.
It would take two years for Salgado to recover her money from the DEA, which did not arrest her husband because agents discovered he had not been selling drugs after all. The lead DEA agent admitted in a court deposition that there was no evidence supporting the allegation.
If you sue (which means being able to pay a lawyer), sometimes (and only sometimes) you can get your money back. But that’s not the end of the story. The DEA handed the money back to Salgado before a judge could rule on the merits of the case. The agency did this to ensure it didn’t have to compensate Salgado for fighting to get her money back.
Before a critical ruling in the civil forfeiture dispute with Salgado, Justice Department lawyers on their own decided to return her money. But at the same time, they argued that Salgado had not really won because a judge granted the feds the right to refile their civil case in the future — even though they probably had no intention of doing so. As a result, the government argued it did not have to pay her attorney’s fees, which she said amounted to $5,000.
Unfortunately, the judge agreed with the government’s arguments. It was clear the government had no intention of trying again at the state level. It had only given the money back to avoid a ruling against it that would have made it liable under CAFRA for her legal fees. The court somehow came to the conclusion that the last-minute release (after more than two years of litigation) of the seized money wasn’t a bad faith maneuver by the DEA to dodge paying more than it had taken in.
Salgado’s case is now in front of the Supreme Court, which is expected to rule on her appeal in April. Hopefully, the court will align itself with citizens who’ve had money taken from them under the pretense that it’s been illegally obtained — all without a single criminal charge being brought against them. A North Carolina federal court wouldn’t let the IRS duck fees in a forfeiture case where the government dropped the case after the victim fought back. Neither should the Supreme Court. Allowing government agencies to use the costs of litigation to deter people from recovering property the government admits (via dismissal, etc.) did not come from illegal sources makes it that much easier for the government to stay in the legalized theft business.